Writing by Veronica Meewes
Photography by Lauren Ussery and Adrienne Dever
Across town at VOX Table, the scene is similarly focused as cooks dice and mince in the open kitchen, but the addition of a soundtrack inspires the occasional solo.
As each new staff member arrives to work, they embrace, and one of the cooks appropriately begins crooning along to “Where’s the Love” in a falsetto, without missing a single knife stroke.
Joe Anguiano, executive chef at VOX Table, is also a firm believer in finding a balance between function and aesthetic. “I feel like I’m very metrosexual about plating,” he says. “I’m really particular about the details, but details that make sense and go well with the dishes… I’ve seen dishes where they just don’t make sense or the flavors are not there but the presentation is awesome. You’ve got to have both the presentation and the flavors working together.”
Anguiano brings with him experience from highly acclaimed restaurants like Le Cirque and Montrachet in New York, Miró in Santa Barbara, The Bazaar in Los Angeles and the two-Michelin-starred Zuberoa in San Sebastián. His French, Spanish and Basque training shines through in his cuisine, which exudes classical expertise reinterpreted in playful, modern ways.
“I have lots of fine dining experience but that’s what I don’t want to do,” says Anguiano. “I don’t want to do the fine dining – I want to do fun dining!”
His hamachi pipettes are a perfect example of just that. He fills skewer tubes with coconut and soy vinaigrette and then pierces each one with a pickled cucumber, tomato raisin, applewood-smoked hamachi and a thin slice of Thai chile. Each bite is dusted with rice crackers and corn nuts for texture and garnished with micro cilantro and basil.
“I think it’s really fun because the pipette becomes a new utensil that people are using instead of a fork and knife,” says Anguiano. Other elevated finger foods on the menu include grilled octopus served on traditional Basque pintxo spears and pork cracklings splatter-painted with citrus aioli and brava sauce.
“It has to be exciting because people eat with their eyes,” he says.
Even some of his more traditional plated dishes have elements of guest interaction. Anguiano braises and grills Windy Hill Farms goat shank and serves it over a creamy rice with fava beans, za’atar and orange zest, and grilled vine ripe tomatoes, which he instructs diners to crush, releasing a smoky sauce to mix into the rest.
“I think the presentation has a lot to do with our style and the quality of the food we’re using,” Anguiano explains. “We’re not taking shortcuts on any of the steps. We’re buying the best products we can find around town. So I think the presentation has to meet up with the quality of the ingredients we’re using.”
Those premium ingredients are where pastry chef Allison Henschel begins when creating her desserts. “I’ll start with flavors,” she explains. “What do I want somebody to taste? What’s the end goal of the flavor profile? I start thinking of the components and how I can utilize each flavor and keep things interesting – have some soft, some crunch, some ice cream, different textures.”
Her Sazerac sundae was inspired by her husband’s favorite winter cocktail. In an effort to make it in a way he could enjoy all year long, she started experimenting with translating the flavor components into a frozen dessert and then refined it into a deconstructed version.
Rye brown sugar custard balances on a pecan sable (“for both flavor and functionality” notes Henschel) accompanied by an herbal absinthe-inspired ice cream made with Peychaud’s bitters and toasted fennel and anise. To emphasize the drink’s boozy nature, she also includes a rye caramel and rye-soaked orange supremes, and the whole creation is garnished with Peychaud’s candied lemon peel, fennel chip for texture and pecan brittle for richness and crunch.
Her creme frâiche cheesecake is a French-Asian fusion of techniques and flavors, starting with a soft and airy cheesecake on a black sesame savoy base, a generous squeeze of bright yuzu curd, fresh strawberry compote, fried candied ginger and several pinches of dehydrated strawberry dust. A jagged, eye-catching piece of black sesame glass and a soft pea tendril both contrast with the round cheesecake dome.
Henschel visually interprets each dish much like Prieto does as she plays with plating. “I try to keep photography in mind,” she says. “I take the rule of thirds and get the lines to go from one piece to the next just to follow through. The flow and the lines are really important to me.”
As for the ideas behind her desserts? “Honestly, a lot of it comes to me when I’m starting to fall asleep,” she says. “My mind starts to let everything go and then I won’t be able to sleep because all these creative ideas just come rushing in. It’s almost as if it’s a stop-motion animation where I’m plating in my head and moving these pieces here and there.”
Writing: Veronica Meewes
Photography: Lauren Ussery and Adrienne Dever
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